The anthropocene is imposing itself every day with a more acute urgency that opens a precipice, so great seems the inaction. This collapse offers the possibility of a turning point. Answering the question “What should we do?” also means asking ourselves “How should we think?”
If we have difficulty thinking, understanding and representing the anthropocene, it is probably because we lack the tools to imagine hyper-objects1, – those climatic, geological, economic and technological entities of such a scope that they bankrupt our ability to perceive them. It is also the place where short and immense temporal dimensions are telescoped. We lack the ability to imagine in concrete terms the complex causalities at work in the logistical relation between production, distribution and consumption. We lack the imagination to overcome the cognitive dissonance that characterizes, if not the denial of ecological urgency, at least our collective inaction.
Based on the hypothesis of a collapse of the IT infrastructure, and so, of a post-digital collapse, this symposium aims at suspending the occupation of the world. Given the omnipresence of computers, we want to provoke reflection to imagine what comes after. We seek to put into historical perspective the imagination that nourished the anthropocene, this era of the Earth defined by the predatory impact of humanity. Understanding the roots of the mobilization of the world, of which the digital is a part, may mean not reproducing the causes of that which we want to escape in so-called “solutions” to the contemporary ecological crisis.
This imaginary, the ambivalent source of the anthropocene, should be described. Our hypothesis is that it is at the crossroads of our science, mythical narratives and images of the world and technology. Through dialogue between artists and theorists, this historical context will be articulated with contemporary works. They produce images and gestures that are inextricably material and cognitive; in the process, they help us think. How do artistic representations inform the current crisis? And what is the critical and practical role of imagination in the historical moment that seems to be opening up, when the question of what comes after is inextricably linked to the possible and the impossible?
THE ROOTS OF THE APOCALYPSE
If the dating as well as the validity of the concept of anthropocene is debated, one may speculate on its genealogy, which would not only come under the technical and pragmatic field but also under the cultural and symbolic ones.
Is it not a certain representation of the world that has presided over its anthropic use? Should we not then go back to theological and philosophical conceptions as well as artistic representations to understand what we have done with the Earth and how we conceive time? What are the links between a culture that seems to have constantly anticipated the end of the world and the present situation? In what ways does one influence the other through technical devices that are precisely at the intersection of culture and materiality?
We will also seek to reconstruct the history of traditional and contemporary end-of-the-world narratives and images, and observe how they overdetermine our relation to the environment and our understanding of anthropocene discourses.
THE COLLAPSE OF THE MACHINES
The energy and environmental impact of IT has sometimes been underestimated because it has been considered partially immaterial since cybernetics. The exit from the “cloud” reveals a digital world whose logistical and ecological weight is still difficult to assess. Does not this blindness have its imaginary part?
The hypothesis of a collapse of infrastructure appears to be a likely prospect. The idea of the post-digital takes a completely different turn: no longer a world where digital is in our blood, but of a life where we may suddenly have to do without what has become most familiar and necessary to us. The notion of the post-digital would mean a world after the digital, without computers, since their production and maintenance would have become unsustainable.
How might we imagine a human world without computers, which are the tools of globalization? How might we even think the human sciences without these machines? What speculative scenarios can we develop, either theoretical or artistic? By imagining their absence or ruin, will we be able to feel the way they still constitute the world’s logos today? What about the use of climate when data centers are located in cold regions?
The interventions will aim at analysing the material and ideological impact of digital technologies on our environment and assess their future sustainability. They will also be able to question the use of digital in apocalyptic or innovation stories. Finally, they could speculate on a world without computers whose logistics would be disrupted.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a renewed interest in the non-human world. Beyond the consideration of agents such as animals, places or techniques, what is at stake is a decentralization, in the context of a possible extinction of our species, of the living and the autonomy of the Earth.
Collapse, when seen through collapseology, appears as a moment in a larger sequence, the cause of which could be human or not, as for instance a cosmic event. This horizon of extinction displaces, the mortality at stake for each individual and questions the foundations of anthropocentrism.
This closure of life might allow us on the one hand to think of the Earth without us; while on the other hand it questions us on the possibility of our survival or our surpassing, with the stories of technological singularity or Russian cosmism. But can we both think and imagine our non-existence? What does an ahuman thought of the Earth mean? What may we learn from the gap between our present and our future disappearance? The current resurgence of resurrection myths, the structuring force of anthropocentric eschatologies, and the multiplication of apocalypses, seems to indicate that we have difficulty in really accepting the relation between our finitude and the infinity of the cosmos, and even in imagining it. How is this tension questioned by the arts today?
With regard to collapsology that seems to revolve around the human being whose environment is collapsing around them, we will explore alternative non-human strategies and the impact of these on our representations. We are interested in stories and works that speculate on the end of our species.
This symposium, organized at the Ecole normale supérieure by the Postdigital research group (http://postdigital.ens.fr) intends to bring together researchers in the human and social sciences as well as in the sciences, theorists and artists, in order to take into consideration this post-digital world that may not come into existence in the future but can nevertheless make us better understand the major problems of today. To facilitate this interdisciplinarity, we will favour duel proposals between artists and theorists, whose collaborative logic would be neither illustration nor justification of one to the other.
Organizing committee: Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, Grégory Chatonsky, Clémence Hallé, Francis Haselden.
Proposals should be sent before January 1st, 2019 to Grégory Chatonsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel (email@example.com): a summary of 300 words max, accompanied by a CV, in French or English. The conference will be held in both languages on 8 and 9 April 2019 at the Ecole normale supérieure, 45 rue d’Ulm, Paris, salle Dussane.